In the process of creating a smartphone app that provides real-time information on the quality of local tap water, Amador Valley High School student Hiya Shah also won the Congressional App Challenge for California’s 15th Congressional District.
“The reason I wanted to join this contest was I’m really passionate about education. I wanted to make water quality education more accessible and I thought this contest could be the perfect way to do so,” Shah told the Weekly.
“Clear water does not mean good quality water — a clear glass of water could also be lethal,” Shah said. “(Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) have been discovered in some of our wells as well as lead in Amador’s drinking fountain. We need to get more awareness about it and get more education about water quality.”
Awarding prizes “to students who demonstrate exceptional computer science skills and apply those skills to supporting their community,” the competition sees applicants submit their original apps in the hopes of gaining national recognition as a district winner.
Shah entered her mobile app Maji, which uses a smartphone picture of the water and field testing data to provide a real-time water quality estimate and filtration options.
“The goal is to make water quality information more accessible without the need for expensive, infrequent water loggers,” Shah said.
According to Shah, the city of Pleasanton updates water testing data every couple of weeks “and does this by block.”
The app configures the user’s location, takes the closest water testing site and uses testing information from the site in conjunction with provided visual data to give “as much of a real time water quality estimate as possible,” Shah said.
After programming for some time, Shah did an internship at the local environmental nonprofit Go Green Initiative, where she was encouraged to combine her concern for the environment with her interest in technology.
“I’ve always read about water contamination, it’s a critical issue, and I thought I could do something to help mitigate it,” Shah said.
Eventually, she decided to enter the contest in Rep. Eric Swalwell’s 15th Congressional District, which includes Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon and Livermore as well as parts of western Alameda County.
In a statement, Swalwell said he feels “confident about our community’s future when I see what issues our students are already tackling.”
“From making data about water quality easier to share to helping food banks during the pandemic, these students created apps that offer real solutions to today’s problems,” Swalwell said.
Shah — who also founded peer-learning nonprofit TheCodeBakery, which teaches students computer science and artificial intelligence, with a particular focus on combating climate change — said she was “very surprised” to hear she had won the contest.
“I was very surprised, I wasn’t expecting it at all but it’s very encouraging to me to continue working on this app and continue to make water quality information more accessible,” Shah said.
In April, Shah will present her project virtually for the national Congressional App Challenge finals.
Amador Valley sophomore Aryan Jain tied in second for “Attentive,” along with Dublin High tenth-graders Anish Kataria and Krish Malik for “Dermalogix.” Dublin High seniors Derek Xu and Vikas Ummadisetty took third place for “FoodEase.”